She merits inclusion among the all-time greats.
Colin Irwin 2010
A 19-CD box set? Twenty one and a half hours of music? A 72-page book? Artefacts that include a receipt for her first piano? Who said the music industry no longer had money to burn?
For anybody unfamiliar with Sandy Denny’s yearning, evocative songs, her teeteringly vulnerable vocal style and the erratic contours of a career that ended shockingly in a fall downstairs in 1978 when she was 31, this eye-watering project may seem like ludicrous indulgence.
Yet while Denny was far from being a household name and – apart from a comedy French version of Bob Dylan’s Si Tu Dois Partir with Fairport Convention – never had a hit, her cult status has remorselessly risen in a manner comparable to her contemporary Nick Drake, with a swathe of younger artists mentioning her in dispatches and fresh generations seduced by her beguiling melancholia.
This is not even the first box set in her name – the excellent five-CD A Boxful of Treasures came out in 2004. But when you consider compiler Andrew Batt has not only assembled everything she commercially recorded, but 100 previously unreleased tracks, you get a measure of the extraordinary exhaustiveness of the project.
It dates from her earliest recordings with the Strawbs to encompass her classic folk-rock adventures with Fairport Convention and Fotheringay and alternative versions of her momentous first venture into songwriting with what became her signature song, Who Knows Where the Time Goes? (voted the best folk track of all time in a 2007 BBC poll). She was 20 then, and the maturity of her composition is almost as striking as the husky sensuality of a voice that applies gravitas even to the unsuitable throwaway material to which she was occasionally unaccountably drawn.
Nobody would surely miss lame covers like Silver Threads & Golden Needles and Walking the Floor Over You (even in duet form with Richard Thompson), but her home demos in particular reveal a natural emotional depth scarcely replicated by any other British singer. She was a troubled personality with a flawed career but this set overwhelmingly proves that, irrespective of genre, she merits inclusion among the all-time greats.